“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the Orpheum Theatre: Fun for the family, outdated for those unfamiliar


The music, orchestrated by Larry Blank, is played too precisely, driven by modern jazz sounds as opposed to those of Ragtime that influenced Berlin as he wrote the original score. Book writers David Ives and Paul Blake updated the script in that they took out many of the racist and sexist jokes that appeared in the original, including a minstrel number containing the song “I’d Rather See a Minstrel Show.” The new script, however, does not resonate with modern audience, partly because of the delivery by the actors, but also because they are too cheesy and outdated. The interpreters of White Christmas to the stage did not find the balance between original musical intentions and modern necessities for understanding and engagement. James Clow and Jeremy Benton, who play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis respectively, are no Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and the creators knew that. The original movie of White Christmas begins with Crosby singing his best-selling rendition of “White Christmas” to the troops of his division. In the stage musical, “White Christmas” is performed as an upbeat duet between Wallace and Davis, probably to avoid the immense pressure that recreating Crosby’s performance would put on any singer in the role. The show is many ways a mediocre remake as many of the feelings evoked by the classic movie fall short when watching the stage musical. The beautiful, yet simple songs of Berlin sound boring and drawn-out when sung by modern voices. Something about the crooner voices of Crosby and Kaye does not translate to those of Clow or his co-stars Trista Moldovan and Kaitlyn Davidson (the love interests). The only performer who captures the original intent of Berlin’s music is Jeremy Benton, whose crooning tenor voice provides a wonderful sound for the songs of the comedic relief.Just in time for Thanksgiving, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas comes to Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre November 25th-30th. Based on the 1954 movie musical starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye,White Christmas is the story of two World War II veterans turned Broadway performers who put on a show in a struggling Vermont inn and find their true loves in the process. As is characteristic of musicals from the early 20th century, especially those Irving Berlin, White Christmas has little integration between book, score, and choreography. Although this integration had begun to take place on Broadway by the 1950s, it took much longer for it to catch on in motion pictures. This delay is reflected in the stage musical of White Christmas, first performed in 2004.

Despite unsuccessful attempts to translate jazz standards and 60 year old jokes to the modern stage, White Christmas does succeed in creating a family friendly evening that will put everyone in the mood for Christmas. Although the music falls short of its potential, Berlin’s brilliant composition does shine through. The choreography, although often culminating in long, unrelated dance numbers that those of the 21st century have never experienced, is beautiful. Enhanced by the immensely talented ensemble, Randy Skinner’s choreography captures the feelings that a cold war fighting, communist searching 1950s U.S. went to the theatre to feel – a feeling often created during the Christmas season. This is the feeling of peace and happiness that is still sought after. Although White Christmas is quite a superficial, almost cheesy show, it creates an environment in which an audience can spend two hours smiling at silly fighting couples and dancing children, allowing them to “forget their troubles, come on get happy” – but that’s another movie musical.